It is not every season that a program brings in and helps develop a CIS Rookie-of-the-Year with the talent, athleticism and resume to eventually become a Moser Award candidate – the optimism becomes contagious. It is not difficult for that optimism to wane considerably when that same player decides late in the summer to leave the program for an NCAA Division 1 school. Unfortunately, that is the situation that long-time Windsor Lancers Head Coach Chris Oliver finds himself in. Always a great teacher of the game and tireless recruiter, Oliver has tried to fill some obvious gaps that resulted and rippled through his roster in the wake of Isaiah Osborne’s sudden departure.
Lancers come off back-to-back OUA Wilson Cup Final 4 appearances that included a pair of road wins at McMaster just to qualify and fortunately do return arguably one of the toughest players in the entire country in 5’10” Mike Rocca. The lefty plays every possession as if it were his last and has an infectious energy that has rallied his team time and time again, including last night in the Lancers tight over time win vs. Lambton when Rocca had 29 points and 13 rebounds. The Lancers also bring back from last season 6’6″ Tyler Persaud and reserve 6’2″ wing forward Randy Oriakhi, who returned last night after sitting out the summer NCAA games with a broken foot.
Unfortunately, Oliver has had to rebuild the remainder of the team due to a combination of graduation – most notable all-OUA star wing Alex Campbell – and untimely departures, beginning with the sudden loss at the end of the summer of 6’4″ sharpshooter Marko Kovac, who really began to assert himself late last season as a consistent perimeter threat as a sophomore. Kovacs apparently is set to transfer with Western potential a landing point.
Lancers did have a solid high school recruiting class that could form the foundation of future championship-level teams by bringing in Guelph Bishop MacDonnell teammates 6’5″ Lukas Wood and 6’1″ Chris Poloniato plus 6’6″ Windsor St. Anne’s product Anthony Zrvnar. All three contributed solid minutes last night and should be consistent rotation guys this season and beyond.
To make up for the late departures, Oliver has brought in a pair of transfers including 6’8″ Djordje Babic, a former Burlington Pearson star and former York Lion and intriguing 6’0″ Micqueel Martin, a Toronto native who played for Ro Russell’s Grassroots program and graduated from Downsview C.I. in North York. Martin originally took the junior college route, spending two season’s in Brooklyn, NY at ASA Junior College where he averaged about 12 ppg in 2013-14, scoring over 30 points several times against the likes of Munroe Community College in what is usually a very competitive conference. Martin played 34 minutes against Lambton last night and promises to be a plug-in to the rotation.
Oliver does have a pair of definitive difference makers waiting in the wings. 6’3″ Mitch Farrell, who was a large part of Lancers drive to the Wilson Cup championship game in 2014-15 when Windsor upset #1 ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees right in Ottawa, missed all of last season with a shoulder problem. Farrell finally underwent surgery in July and is expected to be out until after Christmas. Recall Farrell, originally from Orillia Twin Lakes, transferred back to Windsor after a season with New Jersey Institute of Technology, an NCAA Division 1 program. Farrell will not practice for the foreseeable future while he rehabs and the hope is he returns for the second half.
Recall also that the last in the line of the fine Allin basketball family that has been a fabric of the Windsor program over the past decade and a half, 6’7″ Luke Allin, has transferred back home and will be eligible to play in the final week of November when Lancers travel to Toronto to meet the Varsity Blues and Ryerson Rams. Allin will have sat out the required one full year after leaving Laurier Golden Hawks last season and is in his third year of eligibility. Allin was one of the finest high school players in the country when he left Chatham several seasons ago and provides Oliver with an immediate potential star on the wing and in the post.
The Lancers continue to grow as a group given the high turnover and Oliver remains encouraged: “the kids have been great and we are making progress”. However, Windsor will need Farrell, Allin and one or two others to step up quickly in time to make another playoff run.
Windsor hosts Fanshawe next week and then travels out west to Alberta to the Calgary Cup where they meet #2 Dinos plus Mount Royal and Regina. This is a work in progress, but the highly-successful Oliver always seems to get his teams prepared for the season’s stretch run, with this particular season presenting its own unique challenges.